with the crusades of the day. When the government was fighting bootleggers
during Prohibition, Hollywood produced such films as Little Caesar,
casting Edward G. Robinson as the neurotic gangster, Rico. In the
name of aiding the war effort, heartless Nazis and feral Japs became
stock film villains during World War II. Godless communists popped
up during the McCarthy Era in such films as Big John McClain,
which cast John Wayne and James Arness as two-fisted investigators
for the "House Un-American Activities Committee." Drugged-out hippies,
left-wing radicals and black revolutionaries filled the screens
during the 1960s and 1970s. Heavily-armed black street gangs modeled
after the Crips and Bloods appeared during the height of the Crack
Cocaine Scare. Fanatical Muslim terrorists surfaced in the 1990s
in such films as Arnold Schwarzenegger's True Lies and The
Peacekeeper, the first film for the politically-connected Dreamworks
studio. Militias swept across the screen after the 1995 Oklahoma
City federal office building bombing, with leaders and members portrayed
as illiterate white racists in such movies as the 1999 Steven Seagal
vehicle, The Patriot. And when the federal government began
warning about the dangers of the Internet, the FBI fought cyber-terrorists
in the 1999 made-for-TV movie, Netforce.
the years, radio and TV programming has always been generous when
serving up government propaganda. One early radio drama called "I
Lived Three Lives" was about an FBI agent who assumed the cover
of a mild-mannered insurance agent in order to infiltrate the Communist
Party. Another early show featured "true" stories from FBI case
files. Television was an even more powerful brain washing tool,
with cops shows serving up a steady parade of officially-designated
bad guys. Marijuana smokers were portrayed as mindless zombies in
Dragnet and Adam 12. Jack Lord fought Chinese communist
agents in Hawaii 5-O. Greasy Columbian coke dealers were
a staple of Miami Vice, while The Sentinel has taken
on militias and swarthy international terrorists.
of the most obvious examples of media propaganda was In the Line
of Duty: Ambush in Waco, a made-for-TV movie about the federal
government's fatal 1993 confrontation with David Koresh and the
Branch Davidians. It was actually filmed during the 51-day siege
following the botched raid on the Davidian's complex. Actor Timothy
Daly portrayed Koresh as a crazed cult leader who drove his brainwashed
followers to suicide. One scene showed him handing a pistol to an
elderly church member, asking if she was prepared to die for him.
In another sequence, a young girl, who had left the church before
the raid, told a government agent that Koresh had instructed her
on the proper way to commit suicide. Forming her right hand into
a gun, the girl stuck the "barrel" in her throat. Ambush in Waco
was first broadcast on May 23, 1993, a little more than a month
after the fiery holocaust which killed Koresh and more than 80 of
his followers, including over a dozen children. Since the controversy
reignited late last year, the film has been a staple on Court
the government does not need to pay the media to spread its propaganda.
In fact, on January 17, USA Today reported that many of scripts
and shows submitted to the ONDCP were completed and broadcast before
the government approved them. This underscores how readily the entertainment
industry has kowtowed to the "War on Drugs." Network executives
already know what their programs should say about the government's
villains of the day.
of this is a surprise to anyone who has studied the links between
the popular media and the government's intelligence operations.The
Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare
1945-1960, by Christopher Simpson, is a good place to start.
In his 1994 Oxford University Press book, Simpson documents how
President Franklin Roosevelt created the Office of the Coordinator
of Information in 1941, putting his close friend, Wall Street lawyer
Bill Donovan, in charge. The next year, Roosevelt split the responsibilities
of the OCI into "white" and "black" operations. The white or overt
role was assigned to the Office of War Information, which did things
such as suggesting story lines to the producers of comic books,
soap operas, movies and other forms of popular entertainment. Some
of their guidelines called for Japanese to be portrayed as treacherous
and British to be shown as heroic.
relationship between the government and the media is even closer
today. Mergers have put the control of the media in the hands of
a few powerful corporations, international business entities which
interact with government regulators every day. The result is an
unparalleled level of supposedly benign cooperation.
of the most dramatic examples occurred last year, when the CIA opened
the doors of its ultra-secret headquarters to Showtime and Paramount
for their movie, In the Company of Spies. The film, which
aired on Showtime last October 24, concerns a retired CIA operative
who returns to duty to prevent North Korea from buying missiles
which can carry nuclear warheads to America. Several key scenes
were filmed at the CIA headquarters, and 60 off-duty CIA officials
participated as extras in the movie. To celebrate the collaboration,
CIA Director George Tenet invited the film's stars, including Tom
Berenger, Ron Silver, Alice Krige, Clancy Brown and Arye Gross,
to a private screening and reception at CIA headquarters. Director
Tim Matheson and a host of Washington political luminaries also
attended the lavish event. "The CIA's objectives were clear," Roger
Towne, the screenwriter who also was the film's executive producer,
told the Associated Press. "They hoped to see a human face put on
the agency and we had just the story to do it."
the Salon story sparked a brief wave of criticism, government
officials went on the offensive: "We are very proud of the accomplishments
of the campaign," ONDCP spokesman Rob Weiner told the Washington
Post. "We plead guilty to using every lawful means to save America's
executives insisted that although they submitted scripts and shows
to the ONDCP, they weren't seeking the agency's approval. But Salon
turned up several instances of scripts which were altered after
passing through the drug office. John Tinker, executive producer
of Chicago Hope, reworked a script which had been put aside
after receiving a call from Mark Stroman--then of 20th Century Fox
Television (co-owner of the show)--who asked specifically for an
anti-drug show. Although Tinker denied any tinkering, he told the
Washington Post that he felt manipulated. "I would have liked
to be told," he related to the Washington Post. "If the President
wants us to talk about drugs, can I be called?"
in the short-lived furor was the dark reason behind the arrangement--the
fact that inserting political messages in entertainment programing
is far more effective than paid advertising. None of the government
officials admitted the anti-drug messages amounted to propaganda.
Instead, they all insisted ONDCP was merely helping the networks
ensure they dealt with drugs in a "realistic" or "accurate" way.
But that's simply not true. On television, drug users are almost
alway presented as either down and out junkies or first-timers who
suffer tragic consequences. For example, the revived Chicago
Hope episode revolved around young party-goers who experience
a drug-induced death, rape, psychosis, a two-car wreck, a broken
nose, a doctor's threat to skip life-saving surgery unless the patient
agrees to be drug tested...and a canceled flight on the space shuttle!
Just like real life for first time or casual drug users!
few drug users suffer such fates. Even the government admits that
the majority hold full-time jobs. They use drugs occasionally for
recreation. Only a fraction of them become addicts. And alcohol
kills more people than all illegal drugs combined by a factor of
ten to one hundred--hard to say since cirrhosis of the liver, heart
disease, diabetes etc. are cited as the alcoholic's cause of death.
why the government's TV script program is propaganda, not realism.
The shows approved by the government are as slanted as any of Jack
Webb's tirades against hippies--more subtle but still shocking psychological
warfare on the gullible minds of the American people. After all,
we are 16 years beyond 1984.